Day 6: Shawarma and other adventures…

So, we’re sitting at the top of Mount Arbel this morning, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee and the modern city of Tiberias.  And our guide is telling us all about the geography of the land (he does this very well, by the way).

Anyway, this man is a secular Jew, which basically means he doesn’t share the same beliefs that Christians have and he does not practice the Jewish religion either.

But, this guy knows the Bible better than many (or even most) Christians I know (which is weird and sad both at the same time).

In the middle of telling us about the geography around the Sea of Galilee, he starts comparing the water levels of the Sea of Galilee with the water levels of the Dead Sea.  And, then he says this…

“If you are only receiving and never giving, you are dying.”

(I’ll just leave that there for a second for you to think about…)

Okay, so the views from Mount Arbel today were…





I could go on, but I won’t.

In the pictures you see below, I hope that you can at least get a glimpse of what I saw today.  Also, for any Princess Bride fans out there, see if you can find the picture I took of the “cliffs of despair.”  I’m almost positive they filmed that famous scene in the movie there…

After Mount Arbel, we visited the town of Magdala, which may have been where Mary Magdalene was born.  A 1st century synagogue has recently been found at this site which is pretty cool.

Next, we went on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  I have no words.  I’ll try to share my thoughts with you in the form of these pictures…

We ended the tour part of the day in Kursi, an archaeological park near the place where Jesus cast the demons into a herd of pigs (great story, by the way…and fun to act out with a bunch of middle school students in the “pit” back home at Sunrise).  This was also the site of the ruins of a monastery from the 5th century.  Check out some pics from that below…

Finally, I ended the day with another swim in the Sea of Galilee.  This time, I took my phone with me and got some incredible pictures of the sunset.  Here are just a few of them…

Oops, I totally forgot one more important detail of the day…

I ate shawarma for lunch and it was delicious.  And, I may have eaten another Magnum bar.


Okay, so back to the quote I started the blog with today…

Jesus said that he came to give us life to the full.  And that life starts now…today.

But, the only way that you can live that kind of life…the life that God created you for…is to be a giver.

Because, as our secular Jewish guide even knows, if you are only receiving, you are dying.

And, that’s no way to live.


Israel Day 5: PJ’s top 5 adventures…so far

Israel Day 5:  PJ’s top 5 adventures…so far

Today, I thought it would be fun to share my top 5 adventures of the trip…so far.  So, here you go…my top 5 adventures in Israel (in no particular order).

Exploring the Old City of Jerusalem—walking the streets, looking in the shops, and watching the people.  It’s amazing the sheer volume and diversity of people and stuff there is to see in the Old City!

Swimming the seas—okay, so I actually floated in the Dead Sea, but that was quite the experience.  Earlier today, I watched the sunset as I swam in the Sea of Galilee (which, by the way, is more like a big lake than a sea…).

Walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel—this was cool…and dark…and wet.  But, amazing when you think about how the tunnel was designed and built!  Hammers and chisels for 533 meters…

Eating some local food—started the week off with a falafel pita, ate some local ice cream and a famous Magnum ice cream bar (or two), and topped it off with a whole fish!

Finding things that remind me of home—the Cubs on a yarmulke (a little weird), a YMCA in Nazareth, the Lego Batman movie in Hebrew, and…a windmill in Jerusalem!

Well, there you go…my top 5 adventures in Israel (so far).  My hope as I continue this adventure is to share more of these experiences and some more of the stuff I’m learning too.  Hope you enjoy following along!

Israel Day 4: Acting like Jesus

Israel Day 4: Acting like Jesus


Nazareth Village

Nazareth Precipice

Israel Day 4 started at a place called Sepphoris.  During the time of Christ, it served as the capital of Galilee, as well as its largest city.

Today, in the middle of what remains of the city, is an outdoor theater.  With enough seating for up to 7,000 people, this theater was the center of activity for the city.

So, as we’re sitting on the theater steps, talking about the plays and town meetings that were often held there, I hear this…

“The term ‘hypocrite’ in Greek origin translates ‘actor’…and in that cultural context would have been considered a positive, descriptive term.”


Isn’t a “hypocrite” a negative, descriptive term?

Doesn’t Jesus call out all the Pharisees and religious leaders as being “hypocrites?”

And, don’t we call Christians who don’t act like Jesus, “hypocrites”?


But, think about it this way…

An actor is someone who plays a part.  Someone who is pretending to be someone that they are not.

That’s what actors are supposed to do, you know.

And, we don’t want to be like that.

Playing the part of a Christian…pretending to be a follower of Jesus…acting religious (like the Pharisees).

That would just be acting (or “hypocritical”).

But, what if the point was to become like the One we follow by acting like him?

Then, we wouldn’t just be actors anymore…

We’d be like the One we’re acting like.

And, I think that’s the point.

Acting like Jesus so that we become like Jesus.

Anything less than that would be, well…hypocritical.


Israel Day 3: a day of irony

Israel Day 3:

Temple Mount

Pool of Bethesda

Western Wall

City of David

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Today was a day of irony.

It started with waiting in line to enter the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount today is a Muslim holy place…in fact it’s the third highest ranked holy place for Muslims to visit in the world.


The irony is that the Temple Mount is built on the original temple of Jerusalem.

You know…the temple that the Israelites built and used to worship God.

The one where Jesus overturned the tables.

The one where animal sacrifices were performed for the sins of the people.

You know…that one.

So, it’s historically sacred to the Jewish people.

And, now today it’s sacred to the Muslim people.

See the irony?

Right after visiting the Temple Mount, we visited the Western Wall.

The Western Wall is where Jewish people go to recite their prayers to God.

It’s located directly behind (literally on the other side of the wall) of the Temple Mount.

One side of the wall is Muslim.

One side of the wall is Jewish.

So, there’s one irony.

But, here’s what I can’t stop thinking about…

The Jewish people are very religious.

They are devoted to God.

They pray with great emotion and sincerity.

But, they don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

So, they jump through all sorts of religious hoops in their devotion to God, and they do it religiously and sincerely day after day after day.

But, they’re missing Jesus.

And, everything in the Bible points us to Jesus.

He’s the answer…the only answer really.


But, here’s the irony for me.

The Jewish people here are religiously devoted to God, and they don’t even believe the Gospel.

We (Christians) say we believe the Gospel, and then we religiously devote ourselves to lesser things…like family, and sports, and work, and comfort, etc.

We know the Messiah that the Jewish people are still waiting for.

But, how devoted to him are we?

Religious devotion to Jesus is an every day thing.

Not a Sunday morning thing.

Not a prayed-a-prayer-when-I-was-a-kid-so-I’m-good kind of thing.

It’s an every day decision to follow Jesus with every day actions, where your actions prove your decision to follow him.

The Jewish people have this figured out, but they don’t know Jesus.

Christians know Jesus, but we don’t really follow him.

See the irony?


20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:20



Israel Day 2: finding joy in unexpected places

Day 2:  Finding joy in unexpected places
Jordan River
Dead Sea Float
WadiKelt hike
Today started at Herodium, the location of one of Herod’s eight palaces.  It also happens to be the site of Herod’s tomb.
This is the same Herod who sent wise men to find Jesus.
The same Herod who later had all the male children two years and younger in Bethlehem killed when he realized the wise men had tricked him.
You know…that Herod.
So, here we are sitting next to the remains of Herod’s palace, with the town of Bethlehem off in the distance behind us.
And, we’re reading the account of the birth of Jesus.
We’re learning just how powerful and how wealthy and how ruthless this Herod was and how Jesus was born not far from his palace.
And, in that time and space, we start to sing…
Joy to the world.
Yes…that joy to the world.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King…
Never would I imagine singing those words sitting next to the ruins of Herod’s palace and overlooking Bethlehem off in the distance.
I found joy in an unexpected place.
Fast forward to later in the day, where we hiked in the same wilderness Jesus was tempted in.
The same wilderness where travelers (including Jesus) walked back and forth between Jerusalem and Jericho.
And, in a time of quiet, I wondered…where is the joy in this place?
Where is the joy in remembering that Jesus spent 40 days and nights here being tempted by Satan?
What was he thinking when he was alone and tired and hungry?
Where was the joy?  Did he find any joy in that desert?
And then I remembered these verses from Hebrews 12…
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Jesus found joy in an unexpected place.
And, we can find joy in unexpected places too.
I know I did today.
Maybe like Jesus, you find yourself in your own wilderness…your own desert place today.
Don’t give up.
There’s joy to be found in unexpected places.

Israel Day 1: Perspective and Rocks

Blog Note from PJ:  Over the next ten days, I will be using my Verse O the Week blog to journal my experience in Israel with Sonlife.  Hope you enjoy following along!
Day 1:
– Mount of Olives
– Scale model of Jerusalem
– Dead Sea Scrolls
– Valley of Elah (David and Goliath)
Day 1 in Israel was all about perspective and rocks.
Perspective came standing on the Mount of Olives, looking out over Jerusalem, and thinking of Jesus when he said…
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!”  (Matthew 23:37)
I was reminded of Jesus’ love and his desire to care for his people…and how so often we refuse him and go our own way.
Perspective came standing over the “city of Jerusalem” (a scale model), looking at the pools of Siloam and Bethesda, and thinking of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman when he said…
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  (John 4:13)
 I was reminded that Jesus is the only one who can quench our thirst for meaning and hope and purpose and peace…and how so often we look for those things in other places only to find ourselves more thirsty.
Perspective came looking at ancient scrolls and artifacts, and thinking of Jesus when he said…
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  (Matthew 5:17-18)
I was reminded that all of Scripture ultimately points us to Jesus…and our only hope is in him.
Perspective came looking for rocks near the Valley of Elah, where a young shepherd named David picked up rocks, and used one of them to kill a giant named Goliath.
I was reminded that God gives us all that we need to fight the “giants” that we face in our lives…but we still need to take whatever he gives us and do something.  
We can’t live in fear of our “giants.”  We can’t avoid them forever.
But, we can beat them with God’s help.
What “giant” are you facing today?
What has God given you to fight against it?
Praying for God to give you his perspective today…and a few rocks to beat whatever giant you are facing.

We are witnesses.


We are witnesses.

In the aftermath of another deadly shooting in America.

We are witnesses.

In places devastated by recent hurricanes.

We are witnesses.

In a country dealing with racism and hate (and what to do with the American flag).

We are witnesses.

In a family ripped apart by divorce and a culture redefining marriage.

We are witnesses.

In places where people are forced out of their homes due to terrorism and war.

We are witnesses.

In a world full of sin and brokenness.

We are witnesses…

That there is no other Savior.

10 “But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord.
    “You are my servant.
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
    and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
    there never has been, and there never will be.
11 I, yes I, am the Lord,
    and there is no other Savior…
    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
    says the Lord.”  (Isaiah 43:10-12)


Why believing the Gospel isn’t enough


Life is action…

And action is based on belief.

We make choices everyday to do something based on what we believe to be true.

Let me put it to you this way…

Recently, we’ve seen millions of people in Houston and Florida do something because they believed that they were in the path of a hurricane.

Action was taken to move out of it’s direct path.

Sacrifices were made to save others.

A lot of people did something because they believed that their lives depended on action.

But, what if they didn’t do something?

What if they believed that the hurricane was coming and chose to do nothing?

Now, in the aftermath of these hurricanes, thousands of people from all over North America will travel to Houston and Florida to do something…

To help clean up homes and businesses wrecked by wind and rain.

To provide food and shelter for those who’ve lost even the most basic necessities.

To come alongside and encourage and pray for those devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

But, what if they didn’t do something either?

What if the first responders and volunteers from across our country believed that their were millions of people in need of help…but chose to do nothing?

My point is this…

If there is something that we can all learn from these two recent natural disasters it is that believing something to be true is not enough.

Belief requires action.

Imagine that the people of Houston and Florida believed that a life-changing hurricane was coming…but chose to do nothing.

And then ask yourself…would their beliefs even really matter at that point?

Action (and inaction) reveals what we truly believe and what we value.

As Christians, the recent devastation in Houston and Florida should remind us all that following Jesus is more than just believing in Jesus.

Following Jesus requires us to do something.

If you believe in the truth of the Gospel, your everyday choices and actions should reflect that belief.

And, even though God may not be asking you to travel to Houston or Florida to do something today (or in the future), He demands that we act on our beliefs wherever we are.

Just believing the Gospel is not enough.

Because, belief without action is unbelief.

Do something.


14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

James 2:14-17


Culture says this…Jesus says that.

Jesus and Culture

Jesus has a way of turning things upside down.

Culture says this.

Jesus says that.

The question is…who are you going to listen to?

(For the context of the rest of this blog, check out Mark 10:13-31).


The culture says kids have no status…they have nothing to offer…they’re powerless.

Jesus says if you want to get into the kingdom of God, be like that.


The culture says people with status & wealth have it better & easier than the rest of us.

Jesus says those things make it even more difficult to get into God’s kingdom.


The culture says that things like our time and our money and our family and our comfort is to be valued above all other things.

Jesus says the value that we place on those things is what keeps us from following Him.


The culture says that the time you have on this earth is all you have, so make the most of it…be first.

Jesus says that the time you have on this earth is all you have, so make the most of it…be last.


15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it…”  31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (Jesus in Mark 10:13 & 31)


34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[d] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  (Jesus in Mark 8)

Why we need to be saved: to the runaway, reckless, lost, drifter, & the stuck in all of us

saved title.png

Life is full of salvation stories.

If you’re like me, it doesn’t take long to think of times in your life when you’ve needed to be saved or rescued…

Like the time when I was five, and I decided to run away from home…

I figured with a full piggy bank, I didn’t need my parents anymore.  And, even though I didn’t get far, I needed to be saved.

I needed someone to come get me and bring me back home.

Or, the time when I was seven, and I wandered away from my mom while we were shopping, and I got lost…

One minute my mom was right there with me, and the next I couldn’t find her.

I needed her to look for me and find me.

Or, when I was ten, and my dad pulled a man out of a burning car near our house…

The man was driving recklessly and took a corner too fast, and he needed to be saved.

He needed someone to rescue him from a desperate situation.

Another time, I watched the Coast Guard rescue some students from drowning at the beach…

They were just playing out in the ocean and got distracted, and had drifted away from the beach and carried out past the waves.

They needed someone who had the power to go out and bring them back to the beach.

It wasn’t that long ago that I drove my family down to Oregon for Christmas in a snowstorm…and we got stuck at the bottom of a hill only a few hundred yards from our destination.

I tried every possible way I could think of to get us up the hill, but nothing worked.

We were stuck.

And, we needed help to get unstuck and make it to our destination.

So, why do I tell these stories?

I tell them because they help us see why we need to be saved.

Some of us are spiritual runaways…we’re running away from God, because we think we don’t need Him.  And, what we really need is for Him to come get us and bring us back to Him.

Some of us are spiritually lost right now…we know God is there, but we’re really not sure how to find Him.  We need Him to come find us.

Some of us are living recklessly and we’ve gotten way off track…our life is a wreck and we need God to rescue us before it’s too late.

Some of us are spiritually drifting…we didn’t even mean to get that far away from God, but we just got so distracted by life that we need His power to bring us back to Him.

And some of us are just plain stuck…spiritually stuck.  We’ve tried lots of ways to get to God on our own, but we just keep getting stuck, and we need God’s help to get us unstuck.

We need to be saved, because we’re all helpless.

We need to be saved, because we’re all sinners.

Our own choices have created this impossible distance between us and God.

And, we need to be rescued.

The Bible says that the wages of our sin…what we owe God because of our sin…is death.  And, salvation is the only solution to our sin problem.

Salvation is the only way…

For the runaway to be brought back home…

For the reckless to be rescued…

For the lost to be found…

For the drifter to be returned and…

For the stuck to be set free.

And, here’s the thing…

God is the only One who can save us…and He loves us enough to do it.

He loves you enough that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for your sin by dying on a cross.

Think about that…Jesus saved you by dying for you.

Runaway, reckless, lost, drifter, stuck…He did it for all of us.


But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!).  (Ephesians 2:4-5)